Hungry for Health & Wellness

America, as you know, has a health dilemma. Many are overweight and worried about it, and we’re finally realizing what got us here: cheap, processed food. Many have become accustomed to sedentary living or even an overcommitted life that leaves less time for home-cooked meals.

As a result, the people of this great nation are hungry for information about the best foods to eat and how to stay healthy amid the jam-packed demands on our time and our wallets. Naturally, questions come to our minds in supermarkets where consumers try to make sense of the litany of new products and health claims. Terms such as the gluten-free-this and hormone-free-that, as well as the “organic” versus “natural” labels, surround much of our food. How can we, as customers, decipher the various terminology and industry jargon bombarding us in the stores, while still maneuvering our full grocery baskets and keeping the kids happy, all at the same time? If you feel confused, you are not alone.

Knowing this, many grocery stores have responded in a number of ways, including adding nutritional programs, employing in-store dietitians, offering expansive product lines, presenting new and improved cooking techniques and offering nutritional advice. Supermarkets have become not only a place to purchase food, but now, they are much, much more. They are a customer educational venue, offering broad-based teaching services and wellness programs that advance healthier eating. By teaming up with nutritional experts and providing other outreach opportunities, consumers are now able to easily access data to help them make better choices for their personal families.

Robert Vosburgh, group editor of Supermarket News, a weekly trade magazine for the food industry states, “Consumers in America are connecting health and wellness to their diets. As such, with the obesity epidemic and diabetes, a lot of the focus is switching into the supermarket, where people buy food. Consumers are beginning to expect some kind of educational outreach from their retailer.”

According to a 2012 Shopping for Health study, a yearly study released by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine, nutrition continues to drive decision making throughout supermarket aisles across the country. In the study, 64 percent of grocery shoppers read nutrition labels and 30 percent are willing to pay more for organic products. The study also indicated shoppers are increasingly recognizing the importance and have increased their food purchases containing desirable ingredients, including whole grains, fiber and protein.

“More and more shoppers are making the switch to foods with benefits,” said Cary Silvers, director of consumer insights for Prevention. “They are steering away from empty calories and asking, ‘what’s in my food, and how is it good for me?’”

According to a finding from a 2010 study from Catalina Marketing in conjunction with the Food Marketing Institute, shoppers want a combination of convenience, cost savings, taste and messaging from supermarkets that will motivate them to replace fast food meals with healthier options. Today, a number of local grocery stores have taken this advice, introducing programs, educational tours and in-house dietitians to help their customers.

With more than six stores open throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Market Street defines itself as a “unique, one-stop shopping experience that combines shoppers’ everyday grocery needs with the gourmet and specialty items, whole-health products and freshly-prepared foods they crave. From the moment you walk through our doors, to the time our carryout clerks put the last bag of groceries in your car, you will feel truly pampered.” Pampering won’t be the only thing you will receive while visiting one of their stores. Market Street prides itself on ensuring their customers are informed.

Alicia Jerome, corporate dietitian for Market Street/United Supermarkets, explains, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a huge prevalence of food allergies and health needs within our customer base, so we developed six different educational store tours guided by our dietitians, educating customers firsthand on how Market Street supports their health and wellness goals. On the tours, we guide customers through the store, explaining the healthiest choices aisle-by-aisle and within each department. Whether it’s Healthy Shopping 101, Easy Diabetes Shopping, Healthy Heart Cart, Gluten and Dairy-Free Living, or one of two different kids’ adventure tours, customers leave with firsthand information and are armed with ways to make meal planning easier and better.”

In addition to store tours, Market Street also recently implemented NuVal®, a food scoring system that helps customers see — at a glance — the nutritional value of the food they buy. Developed by a recognized team of nutrition and medical experts from leading health organizations and universities, the NuVal System scores food on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the NuVal score, the higher the nutrition. It’s that simple. Because the NuVal System applies the same nutritional criteria to all foods, customers can easily and quickly compare the nutritional value of foods not only within a category, such as vegetables, but also across categories, such as comparing vegetables and veggie burgers.

Ms. Jerome continues, “Our customers absolutely love the NuVal System because it simplifies their busy lives and saves them so much time. I often teach it to kids on tours, and the children become big helpers in the stores, retrieving items for their parents and picking out the highest-rated brand within a category. Scores are displayed directly on the shelf throughout Market Street, so customers are able to make easy nutritional comparisons between foods in a flash. Ultimately, the NuVal System saves time.”

Glinda Digiacinto agrees. A customer of Market Street, Ms. Digiacinto was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Unsettled by what she knew and read about the disease, she became aware of Market Street’s store tours through a Market Street pharmacist and immediately signed up for the “Easy Diabetes Shopping” tour. While walking through the store on the group tour, Ms. Digiacinto learned she could request a free personal tour of the store, and not wanting to take up anyone else’s time, she registered for the one-on-one session immediately. “Through this process, it has been so evidently clear that Market Street cares for me. The important service they provide through their dietitians has been so valuable, and during this process, I have learned a great deal about how to prevent my blood sugar from spiking just by Alicia’s healthy tips and tricks,” exclaims Ms. Digiancinto. “The NuVal System is vital to ensure I make the right food choices. At my recent visit with my doctor, I learned my levels had dropped to the normal zone, and I am no longer pre-diabetic! I can’t thank Market Street and their amazing staff enough. They go the extra mile, and I am a customer for life.”

Fashioned as a neighborhood grocery store with the feel of an old-fashioned farmer’s market, Sprouts currently operates more than 160 stores in eight states. Committed to offering fresh, natural and organic products at affordable prices, Sprouts helps customers explore a great mix of everyday staple food items in addition to specialty products, such as gluten-free items, raw foods and all natural products.

Sprouts offers a number of educational programs to help inform customers, regardless of location. Lauren Rosenblum, communications manager for Sprouts, notes, “Whether shoppers are in our stores, on email or using social media, we strive to connect with them, providing unique health and wellness resources and information wherever they may be.”

Using the convenience of the Internet, Sprouts presents free, monthly wellness webinars, teaching about popular health topics. Sprouts Nutritionist Janet Little hosts these Internet sessions, often featuring special guests and allowing access to practical information to highly-regarded and respected wellness professionals without having to leave home or office. In addition, free in-store health and wellness events are also offered, including educational workshops and health clinics, all scheduled at select stores on the Sprouts website, Sprouts.com. “These events provide our customers the opportunity to interact with nutritional experts, doctors, authors and product formulators. They can ask real-time questions and receive answers, right then and there,” continues Ms. Rosenblum.

Beginning Jan. 2014, Sprouts will kick start a new slew of educational campaigns entitled “Defy it with Your Diet,” aimed to help customers start the new year off right and make healthy choices. “Through this innovative program, we will offer meal plans, recipes, more webinars, YouTube videos with how-tos and even programs catering to children, such as packing healthy lunches and more. This program will be very detailed, helping to sustain those New Year’s resolutions and maintain them all year long,” notes Ms. Rosenblum. “Overall, our goal is to help our customers, one step at a time.”

Tom Thumb stores, a Texas division of Safeway, Incorporated, operates 63 stores in the area. Founded in 1948, Tom Thumb has served the citizens of North Texas for more than 65 years with a mission to listen to the needs of their shoppers, and no matter their size, represent the local community while providing eager customer service.

Connie Yates, director of public affairs and government relations for the Texas Division of Safeway, explains, “At Tom Thumb, we provide the ‘Ingredients for Life,’ and through this effort, we listen to the needs of our shoppers. Currently, our customers desire ‘better-for-you’ purchases, and just recently, Tom Thumb launched My SimpleNutrition, a free, easy-to-use, online, personalized nutrition tool designed to aid shoppers in making better-for-you food choices. My SimpleNutrition helps shoppers quickly find food alternatives based on the products they regularly buy that are right for their health interests.”

Using previous Reward Card shopping history, My SimpleNutrition suggests healthier alternatives to the product purchased regularly and creates custom lists based on health interests, whether it is a heart-healthy, gluten-free or another specific dietary requirement. My SimpleNutrition also compares nutritional value of products and easily creates a shopping list for the customer.

Ms. Yates continues, “We have found that this tool is extremely helpful when identifying what purchases to make to address specific and different dietary changes. It provides shoppers with a quick snapshot of the nutrition and ingredient benefits, helping customers read and understand the labels without a complicated numbering system or confusing symbols. Overall, customers have been very happy with the quick, easy-to-use format.”

Ultimately, the choices made on every aisle of the supermarket affect each customer’s health, and these stores are successfully introducing and implementing positive, informative nutritional systems to align to their customers’ needs as well as help them purchase and prepare healthy foods for their loved ones and families. The frustrating days of entering a store, fumbling through the aisles and aimlessly picking out a box of Hamburger Helper for dinner will soon be long gone. Grocery shopping will never be the same.

Carolyn Cameron
Carolyn Cameron is an online writer and marketer who fancies coffee, her family, random creative endeavors and finishing a home project in her off time.